Oman is special. Where else on the Arabic Peninsula has some of the “Sinbad the Sailor” feeling survived? Besides this 1001 Nights flair, I was stunned by lush oases, ancient fortresses, sandy beaches, dramatic mountain scenery, rolling desert dunes, picturesque wadis, deep fjords and over-friendly people. All in one country! And honestly, when I booked the flight to Muscat, I had no real idea what to expect… Only when I started reading travel blogs in more detail, did I find out that the 2 weeks we had would never be enough to visit all major attractions. The south with its abundance of incense trees around Salalah, I have to save for another trip.
Beware, though… Oman is an expensive destination, no matter how you travel and how hard you try to save money!
The highlights of the trip were
- The Omani people – Three adjectives to describe them – friendly, tolerant and not at all pushy. For example, asking somebody for directions can trigger different reactions – various people getting involved in finding an answer or even a motorist escorting you through a city. In most countries, such services would immediately result in demands for money. Not in Oman, never did vendors push their wares on us or even approach us for that matter.
- Small town Khasab on the peninsula of Musandam – guarding the Strait of Hormuz: a six-hour sailing trip around Khor al Sham was one of the highlights of my two-week travel in Oman. Resting on carpets and pillows gazing at the dramatic mountain scenery can easily fill a day. Twice we stopped for swimming and snorkeling. It was on this boat that I discovered the most addictive drink ever: tea spiced with cardamom, rosewater and saffron.
- A few days in the Wahiba Sands, a desert with 10,000 km2 of reddish dunes rolling all the way to the Indian Ocean! The simple beauty of this and the feeling of vastness leaves nobody untouched. Going in a jeep deep into the desert was an experience! We climbed and slid down steep dunes as tall as buildings and had a Bedouin lunch in the middle of this emptiness…
- Driving into the heart of the Hajer Mountains on a windy dirt road, that reminded me tremendously of Bolivian “Death Road”. The incline was sometimes so steep that I could see nothing but the hood of our car. I could only hope that I was not going over a cliff or running head on into another vehicle. Wannabe daredevil as I am, I had saved on the 300 Euros to rent a GPS and soon after heading into the mountains from the coastal road: immediately after the tarred road ended, I got lost!
- Hiking Wadi Ghul – Oman’s Grand Canyon: At the crack of dawn I started the trek into Wadi Ghul, Arabia’s Grand Canyon, following the narrow foot path hewn into the western wall of the canyon. Early in the morning the sun was touching our side of the canyon and I loved being warmed. Every time I stopped for taking photos, I asked myself how I could possibly describe the scenery – majestic, spectacular and mighty? It all sounded so trivial!
- Gazing at the 5,000 year old tombs of Al Ayn – just me! Built 3000 BC, in prehistory times, during the Bronze Age, these tombs were once 8 meters high, but with the stone slabs falling off, most of them are only two to three meters high now. It was beyond my comprehension that this was not a major tourist site (I was the only visitor).
- Fortress hopping – and I only visited 8 from the nearly 500… The most remarkable were:
- The fortress of Nakhal, the perfect start for my “fortress hoping” in Oman. Its hilltop location makes it the perfect photo opportunity, probably the best of all Omani fortresses.
- Approaching the gigantic Fortress of Bahla, Oman’s oldest Fort, in the evening light, was magnificent… Its renovation has been going for decades, since only hand made clay bricks are used, to get as close to the original as possible. Despite such immense efforts to make it look authentic, it comes across a bit too neat, like most castles in Oman.
- Nizwa is also a perfect base for some more serious fortress discovery… The fortresses of Jebreen, Bahla, Nizwa and numerous oases wait to be visited!
- The haggling at Nizwa’s goat market on Fridays, very early morning, before busloads of tourists arrive… Even before the selling began, the round podium in the center of the roofed-in arena was filled with men dressed in white Dishdasha, looking elegant and important. A sudden noise of shuffling feet announced the selling and the crowd of humans and animals in the circle started moving. Soon the noise increased, as the men were calling out the price and touting the qualities of the goats, which they were dragging or carrying around…
- Meeting Khalfan in his very personal museum in Al Kamil – Khalfan, a collector at heart, has made his dream come true and turned his grandfather’s old castle into a museum. He spent the last three years travelling all over Oman buying everything from old household items to weapons. He personally took me around and explained the most outstanding items: old coins, stamps, jewelry, telephone cards or weapons that were 500 years old…
- Egg-laying turtles at Ras Al Jinz – Thousands of Green Turtles arrive at the beaches of Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Jinz every year to lay their eggs in the sand. To do so they dig a deep hole with their powerful flippers. A truly moving experience!
- The many oases of Oman, for instance Wadi Bani Khaled. If there ever was a Garden of Eden, it must have looked like Wadi Bani Khaled. Here emerald colored pools lined with palm trees and reeds welcome the visitors. An easy trek leads into a narrow canyon with more pools surrounded by large boulders – much more than the usual picturesque oasis!